Authors: Suzanne Young
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Supernatural, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #Social Issues, #Family, #United States, #People & Places, #Good and Evil, #Love & Romance, #Friendship, #Values & Virtues, #Girls & Women, #Dating & Sex, #Foster home care, #Orphans & Foster Homes, #Dating (Social customs), #Best Friends, #Portland (Or.)
For my grandmother Josephine Parzych,
who will never be forgotten
SIT ON THE FRONT STEPS
of St. Vincent’s Cathedral and pick at the moss nestled in the cracks of the concrete. I’m waiting for Sarah—as usual. She begged me all through calculus to go shopping with her, even though she knows I don’t have the money for it. She promised it’d be fun. And she promised that
time she wouldn’t be late picking me up. I rarely trust her promises, and yet I’m still here.
Traffic whizzes past the church and I look across the street to the bus stop. A thin woman is alone on the bench, a black umbrella open above her, blocking her face. But it’s not raining. I glance up at the blue cloudless sky over Portland. The rainy season hasn’t started yet. We have until November at least.
Just then a drop of water hits my hand. Then another smacks my cheek. No way. When I look across the street again, the woman has moved to rest the umbrella on her shoulder. She’s smiling at me, her blond hair spilling over her black jacket, her boots zipped high on her calf. She looks familiar. Something about her—
A bus pulls up to the stop, erasing her from my view. The sprinkles continue and I look back at the church, considering going inside for cover. The loud rumble of the bus pulling away startles me, and when I look it’s gone and so is the woman.
And then the rain stops.
“Charlotte,” Harlin whispers in my ear, and I jump. I hadn’t heard him walk up.
I look sideways at my boyfriend as he straightens, grinning down at me. His unshaven chin and messy dark hair are a delicious contrast to me, sitting here in a plaid schoolgirl outfit with my fine, straight blond hair neatly combed.
“What are you doing here?” I ask, standing up. “Sudden urge to confess your sins?” Harlin lives on the other side of town with his older brothers. Six months ago he’d decided to drop out of St. Vincent’s Academy, and although I’d hoped he’d enroll somewhere else, so far he hasn’t.
“Nah,” Harlin says. “Pretty sure you’re the only thing that could get me this close to church again.”
“I sound inspiring.”
He laughs. “Well, that and I thought you might need a ride. Figured I’d swing by and check before heading to my mother’s. I’ve been summoned for a
.” He looks away, clearly not wanting to talk about her. He never does.
I step closer and take his hand. “Well, I’m glad you’re here.”
He glances at me, his hazel eyes narrowing. “Is that right?” He pulls me into him and I get on my tiptoes, wrapping my arms around his neck. He leans down, his mouth barely grazing mine. “How glad?”
I smile, motioning toward the church. “Maybe not here?” Harlin shrugs and grins wickedly before kissing me again.
“You absolutely need confession,” I whisper, and when he laughs, I take out my phone and check the time. “Sarah’s nearly forty-five minutes late,” I say, exhaling.
“You sound surprised. When in your life has Sarah ever been on time?” Harlin asks.
“Once last summer . . . Wait. Never mind. She sent her driver instead.”
“I’m coming!” Sarah calls from around the corner. Before I even see her, I can hear the sound of her shoes clacking on the pavement until she finally appears near the street sign. She waves to me, gasping dramatically for air.
“And she arrives . . .” Harlin says, putting his arm over my shoulders. He turns and the scruff on his chin prickles my cheek. “Come to my house after?” he asks, his breath warm on my face.
“Mm-hmm.” I close my eyes, loving the feeling of him so close. The security of his arm around me.
“Gross, you two,” Sarah says, smoothing her red hair as she walks up. She’s still in her uniform, although it’s rolled at the waist, the hem well above regulation length. She’s switched out the usual black loafers for a scandalously high pair of spiked heels. Sarah likes to say that St. Vincent’s dress code is only for the fashionably challenged. Maybe that’s why my skirt is currently grazing my kneecap.
Unlike Sarah, I’m at St. Vincent’s on a “tuition adjustment,” which is code for I can’t afford it. It’s not like we’re
poor, but when the yearly private school dues are enough to buy a BMW, it’s a little tough to work into the family budget.
Truth be told, St. Vincent’s is the best school in the state—even if half the people here are snobs. And that definitely includes Sarah. But at least she’s my snob.
“Hey, Harlin,” she says, glancing over at him. “You here for church, or will you spontaneously combust if you walk in?”
“Not today,” he answers. “Seems they have a strict one-Antichrist-per-service rule, and you fill the quota.”
“Ah, well. Guess I’ll save a seat for you in the netherworld, then?”
Harlin grins. “Appreciate it.”
Sarah turns to me, looking impatient. “Are you ready? I have ten zillion things to do before tonight.”
I nod, sure that she’s exaggerating. It’s probably more like five zillion. Sarah’s what the nuns like to call a “social butterfly”—not to be confused with a tramp. Which is what some of the other girls in our class like to call her. Of course, Sarah’s family is richer than all of them combined, so they’d never say it to her face.
As the bells of the cathedral start to chime, I lean down to grab my backpack off the stairs. Suddenly I’m hit with heavy, bone-shaking vibrations that seem to run through my veins. They fill me up, take me over. Oh God. Not now.
“You okay?” Sarah’s voice is far away, and when I turn to her, her eyes widen. “Again?”
Before I can answer, Harlin is next to me, pulling open my backpack. “Do you have your inhaler?”
I don’t have asthma. It’s just easier to pretend that I do. How else can I explain these episodes? No one would ever believe the truth.
Harlin shakes my inhaler and holds it to my lips. My eyes meet his, and he watches as I make a good show of taking the medicine even though the inhaler’s empty.
The bells stop ringing and the humming inside me eases up, giving me time to catch my breath. My body is pulling me toward the cathedral doors, every inch of my skin aching to be inside. I don’t know why. I never do. Not until I’m there. But right now I have to get inside that church.
Harlin puts the inhaler back into my bag, his jaw tight with concern.
“Thanks,” I tell him, trying to sound calm. There are prickles of heat searing my skin. The throbbing will build slowly until I do what I’m supposed to. Resisting isn’t an option.
“You scared me.” Harlin looks away like he’s over it, but I can tell he’s still anxious. We’ve been through this before, but we both know that I’m getting worse. It’s happening more often.
I’ve been having these episodes since I was seven years old. An intense compulsion to go somewhere, see someone, do something. It’s the most helpless feeling in the world, but I can’t stop myself—like I have no choice. It used to happen only once a year, me telling a kid in my class not to steal, or stopping an old lady from taking the wrong medication. But then it became twice a year. Three times. Each Need becoming more intense. And lately, the compulsions have been coming on once a week. Sometimes once a day. But I’ve told no one. I’m not sure how.
“You use that inhaler way too much,” Sarah says, shaking her head. “Can’t you take a pill or something?”
“She tried,” Harlin answers, not looking back at us.
It’s not true. I’ve never taken any asthma medication, but I told him that to keep the cover believable. I don’t want him to know about the Need. I don’t want anyone to know. I’m still hoping it’ll just go away on its own. But every day—with each Need—it looks more and more unlikely. I don’t know what to do anymore.
On the wire stand next to the double doors of the church is the newsletter with today’s service. I reach over and grab one, looking for a name. Anything that’ll give me a clue.
“Um . . .” When I look up, Sarah’s staring at me. “You’re not going to ask me to go in there, are you? It’s a funeral.”
“It’ll be quick, I swear.” I wouldn’t usually ask her to come, but I’m hoping if she’s with me I’ll be able to keep the Need under control. Get in and out. Besides, if I leave her on the church steps now, she’ll guilt me to death for ditching her.
I used to be able to pull off the Needs with minimum effort, but now they’re harder to hide. Sarah’s convinced herself that I’m partly clairvoyant, like a human Magic 8 Ball. All because she once saw me help a chaperone on a ninth-grade field trip find a lost hiker. She even thinks my visions trigger the asthma attacks.
I’ve considered that maybe I am psychic. But from everything I’ve read about them, they seem like scam artists. And sure, I see visions of people’s future. But it’s not just that. I can see their past. Their feelings. Their . . . souls.
Sometimes I go online at the library and check WebMD, plugging in my symptoms. But the closest diagnosis I get is OCD or schizophrenia. But I don’t triple-check the locks and I don’t hear voices in my head, so I’m resigned to the fact that I’m something else. I’ve even read all the booklets on saints in my religious instruction class, but I don’t fit with them either. They knew their purpose. I wish I knew mine.
Sarah motions toward the church. “I’m not going.”
“I’ll be your best friend.” I smile.
Sarah folds her arms over her chest, thinking about it. Under her makeup I can still see the hint of freckles across her nose. “Fine,” she says. “But you’re lucky that I hate everyone else or your little promises would be worthless.”
I look at Harlin and he’s watching me, still concerned. He knows nothing of the Need—what I really do when I leave him. And he’s never asked. I think of it as a silent truce. I don’t press him about his mother, and he doesn’t press me about my unexplained disappearances. It works for us. At least for now.
“I’ll see you soon?” I ask, reaching for him.
He gathers me up in his arms and puts his face against my neck. “Never soon enough.”
I long for him. Then I wonder if anyone has ever felt the way I do about Harlin. Like I’m falling just from the sound of his voice. But at the same time I’m terrified, feeling that at any second he could be gone. That the Need will take me away from him.
“Let’s go!” Sarah says, marching up to take me by the elbow. “The dead aren’t getting any younger.”
I turn and try to wave to Harlin but he’s already down the gray stone steps on the way to his motorcycle. I still remember the first time I saw him at St. Vincent’s Academy, the year before he dropped out. He was different from everyone else. He wore the same uniform, but something about the way he carried himself, he seemed so much calmer than the other guys. Peaceful. He was completely unforgettable.
“Harlin’s looking good,” Sarah says, stopping at the top step. “I like the whole rough-around-the-edges thing he’s got going on. Makes him look dangerous.”
“I like it too.”
“I bet.” She grins and adjusts the waist of her skirt, letting the hem down an inch or so. She glances at me and shrugs. “What? I’m going into a church.” Sarah reaches out to smooth down a strand of my hair. “Promise it’ll be fast?”